Barbados' Cultural History

BY Ashlee Constance

Barbados' Cultural History
Photography by Lucy Laucht


As a new republic after 56 years of independence, Barbados’ colonial past can still be noticed across the island, see it in our architecture, culture and laws. However, the home of rum and Rihanna is welcoming a new era of change with Prime Minister Mia Mottley at the helm. As well as pushing climate change to the top of the agenda, Motley is on a mission to reconnect the island to its ancestral past, which is huge for our cultural and creative scene. That bridge will allow us to explore our past, have a better sense of our cultural identity and use this to shape the future.

Slavery existed in Barbados from the time of British settlement back in 1627, and while severing our ties with the monarchy was a huge step, the harsh realities of our colonial past should never be overlooked. Once the world’s dominant supplier of sugar, much is owed to the island.

For years, the people of Barbados have expressed their ingenuity and creativity through carpentry, pottery and food. As you move from parish to parish, you’ll be blessed by the charm of chattel houses. Even after emancipation, many ex-slaves were landless and forced by plantation owners to constantly uproot and move around. The necessity to have a moveable house gave birth to the chattel house, now a stamp of Barbadian culture. More recently, creative collectives like Holders Land and Mahogany Culture have put Bim on the digital map by leveraging the NFT space to fund community building projects with the end goal of preserving Caribbean culture.

The creative scene continues to grow; members of the community are strengthening their voices, initiating dialogues and conversations on what it means to be an artist in the Caribbean, and communicating the hurdles they face – both as individuals and communities. Barbados has huge creative potential, but the arts and other creative industries are massively underfunded.

Despite having little resources, Barbadians are talented people. There’s so much more for us to explore, most importantly, what it means to be a Bajan; but when tourism is the top earner, creativity comes second. Our cultural identity is packaged as a tropical getaway where sun, sea and sand are the big attractions. The very structure of the tourism industry reflects colonial practices of our past: the big money stays in the pockets of foreign investors. So when you make it over to Barbados, be sure to support local-owned businesses and connect with the creatives who are forging a new path for the island.